Ickworth, Suffolk, finished drawings for a house for General the Hon. William Hervey, c1766, unexecuted (4)
General the Hon. William Hervey was born on 13 May 1732. He was the fourth son of John, Lord Hervey (1696-1743) and Mary ‘Molly’ Lepel, the daughter of Brigadier General Nicholas Lepel. William’s father, Lord Hervey was an influential courtier and confident of Queen Caroline’s, and his mother Molly was a famed court beauty and former lady-in-waiting. Both Bolton and Burke’s Peerage incorrectly record General William Hervey as the uncle of the 4th Earl of Bristol when he was in fact his younger brother. William’s three elder brothers all successively held the Earldom and the family seat at Ickworth.
William Hervey was educated at Westminster School from 1745-47 and then entered Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in 1751. Molly Lepel’s account of her son, written in 1766, records:
‘I know not a man in the world more indifferent about money than himself; when he has it he makes use of it; when he has it not he suits his situation; walks home at night in the rain with as much content and cheerfulness as if he was carried in his coach… He has one of the happiest, contented tempers I know; and added to that, loves reading and improvements of all kinds; is a curious observer and an accurate relater. He is beloved by all the company he keeps.’
William began his career in the army in 1755 as a lieutenant in the 44th (Essex) Regiment. He accompanied General Braddock to North America that same year, returning to England in 1763. In 1776 he was appointed Captain and Colonel in the 1st Foot Guards and was subsequently made a General in 1798.
William Hervey also pursued a brief career in politics, standing as MP for Bury St Edmunds in absentia in 1763. He successfully won the seat and initially was seen to vote with the administration as his brother, Lord Bristol, was a friend of Pitt’s. In 1763 he supported Pitt’s government in the divisions concerning Wilkes, but from 1764 William began to vote with the opposition. Eventually the brothers were reconciled, but ultimately William proved indifferent to politics. He continued in his attendance of the House, but there is no record that he ever spoke and he did not stand again in the election of 1768.
William Hervey’s accounts reveal many charitable donations made during his life time and in January 1817, two years after his death, a charity was established in his name. Hervey’s charity still operates today and seeks to promote education for the residents of Ickworth and the surrounding Suffolk parishes.
William died on 15 January 1815 and is buried in the Hervey family vault at Ickworth Church, Suffolk.
In the eleventh century Ickworth was listed as one of several assets belonging to the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds. The estate’s association with the Hervey family began in 1432 when Thomas Hervey married Jane, the daughter of Henry Dury and heiress to Ickworth. In 1982 an archaeological excavation uncovered the remains of a thirteenth-century manor house close to Ickworth Church. The earlier manor house was demolished in around 1700 by John Hervey, 1st Earl of Bristol (1665-1751). The Earl intended to construct a new house for the estate, engaging Vanbrugh for the project, but it remained unbuilt. Instead John Hervey relocated to Ickworth Lodge, an earlier farmhouse that was extended for the purpose.
In 1795 William’s older brother, Frederick Augustus Hervey (4th Earl of Bristol, Bishop of Derry and Sir John Soane’s patron in Italy) began his monumental rotunda house for the Ickworth estate. The project took over forty years to complete, with the 5th Earl and 1st Marquess of Bristol finally moving into the house in 1829. The Hervey family resided at Ickworth until the mid-twentieth century when the estate was ceded to the Treasury in lieu of death duties. The house and grounds were then presented to the National Trust in 1958.
Adam’s unexecuted scheme for General William Hervey is undated and the intended location for the building is not recorded. Both Bolton and King surmise that the most probable site for this extraordinary cottage-style house is the Ickworth estate, where the client was raised. As Ickworth served as the seat for three of his older brothers, and is also where Hervey was buried, this seems the most likely location.
Bolton notes the scheme to be a remarkable mixture of elements and King underlines it as one of Adam’s ‘most curious’ designs, with its combination of the rustic cottage-style with the classical. Further interesting elements in the design include a double-height hall, dining room and drawing room, alongside unusual flanking wings. The plans indicate that access to a number of rooms on the ground and first-floors is via external colonnades which overlook small open courtyards.
King makes comparisons between the Hervey scheme and one produced for Strawberry Hill Cottage (c1766). King suggests a similar date of the 1760s for Hervey’s house, which may have coincided with the client’s return to England from North American in 1763.
A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 18, 75; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 249, 252, 260; ‘Ickworth History’, www.nationaltrust.org.uk; ‘Who’s who in the Ickworth Hervey family’, www.nationaltrust.org.uk; ‘A monument to an extraordinary family at Ickworth’, www.nationaltrust.org.uk; ‘General Hon William Hervey’, www.burkespeerage.com; ‘Hervey Family Archives, Ickworth’, www.discovery.nationalarchives .gov.uk; ‘Hervey, Hon. William (1732-1815)’, www.historyofparliamentonline.org; ‘General the Hon. Sir William Hervey’, www.bristolestates.co.uk; www.ickworthchurch.org (accessed February 2021)